A Comparative Analysis of 'Absolution' and Chapter One of The Great Gatsby

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Euan O'Byrne Mulligan

A Comparative Analysis of ‘‘Absolution’’ and Chapter One of ‘The Great Gatsby

We immediately see contrast between the two texts in their openings. The first sentence we read in ‘‘Absolution’’, ‘there was once a priest with cold, watery eyes, who, in the still of night, wept cold tears’, seems like the beginning of some sort of fairy tale or fable. It has a dreamy, child like quality to it. ‘The Great Gatsby’ begins somewhat differently. We are given a direct insight into the character. This difference continues throughout the start of both texts. ‘Absolution’ provides us only select, specific details that sum up what F Scott Fitzgerald wants us to know about the priest, while ‘The Great Gatsby’ begins with a lengthy introduction which seems to give us a clear idea of the life our character leads. In the first chapter of ‘The Great Gatsby’ Nick, the narrator, details his origins and how he came to live in West Egg, the initial setting of the story.

The somewhat detached atmosphere of the opening of ‘‘Absolution’’ seems to break with the introduction of Rudolph Miller. The boy’s introduction is much different to the general, removed introduction we see with the priest, as seen in phrases such as ‘there was once’ and ‘on Saturday nights’. The new character is introduced as a ‘beautiful, intense boy’, with ‘enormous staccato eyes, lit with gleaming points of cobalt light’. This specific description of the boy’s eyes seems to directly contrast with that of the priest at the beginning. His eyes are ‘cold’ and ‘watery’, while the boys seem vibrant and alive. On the other hand, the character that Nick first interacts with is described simply as ‘some man’, who asks for directions. We see that Nick has no real concern for the man, while the priest seems genuinely taken aback by the beauty of the boy’s eyes. This acts as a reflection on Nick’s character. Although he tells us earlier on that he is ‘inclined to reserve all judgements’, which suggests his motives would be positive and he would be acting in good nature, we see that his real motive to help the man was selfish. He describes himself as ‘lonely no longer’, and somewhat arrogantly, proclaims himself to be a ‘guide, a pathfinder, an original settler’. This unreliability seems to continue with Nick’s clearly judgemental description of his cousin’s husband, Tom. We see, from the very start, that Nick is an unreliable narrator. We cannot really trust all that he says.

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Both the stories explore the idea of identity. We see with Nick, through his narrative voice, he gives us his own perceived sense of identity. As already said, he tells us ‘he is inclined to reserve all judgements’, but as the chapter progresses, we clearly see this is not quite the truth. Nick seems to have his actual identity, and then the false identity which he sees himself as and wishes others to see him as. This sense of imagined and real identity, as seen through the eyes of Lacan and his concepts, is seen even more clearly in ...

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